Incidental Music

Incidental Music: def. (noun)- music used in a film as a background to create or enhance a particular atmosphere, otherwise known as a score

Monday, May 13, 2013

May Composer of the Month-Hans Zimmer

Hello readers! I have three favorite film score composers, artists whose work I always enjoy, regardless of the film genre they're scoring for.  I've featured two of these men already: Alexandre Desplat and John Williams. Today, it's time for the third- Hans Zimmer! His score for The Bible miniseries is spectacular and he's about to release his score for Man of Steel (YES), which should definitely be a contender for Best Original Score at the Oscars this year. Since it's summer and I'm feeling lazy, I thought about simply linking a bunch of YouTube videos to this page and saying "Here. Enjoy." I'll probably still do that, since that would be a best way to show you lots of his wonderful work...but Mr. Zimmer is a genius and deserves more love than that, so here's a brief biography!  

Zimmer was born on September 12, 1957 (which shall henceforth be known as Hans Zimmer Day) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He learned to play the piano as a child and began pursuing music in earnest after moving to England and graduating from high school. He started out playing keyboard and synthesizer for various European techno bands in the 1970s, including Krakatoa, The Buggles, Helden, Mecano, and The Damned. His first adventures in composing involved writing ad jingles and collaborating with composer Stanley Myers. Zimmer and Myers co–founded the Lillie Yard recording studio, where throughout the 1980s, they wrote music together. Zimmer also wrote some solo scores at this time- Terminal Exposure among them

The turning point in Zimmer's career came in 1988, when he wrote the score for Rainman-a hugely successful film that won Best Picture and earned Zimmer his first Oscar nomination. From there, Zimmer had no where to go but up! Since then, he has earned dozens of awards for his work including an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe in 1995 for The Lion King, a Golden Globe in 2001 for Gladiator, and a Grammy in 2009 for The Dark Knight

Here are some selections from famous Zimmer scores in addition to those above, just to show you how diverse and wonderful his work is! I love his music because it captures my imagination and often makes me want to go on adventures. So, listen to Zimmer's music today and enjoy :)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Bunch of Score Reviews!

Good day, delightful readers! It's a sunny day for me at home right now. The semester is finally over and I'm looking forward to a summer of adventure and learning. And of course, listening to lots of music! Here's my reviews of the scores I listened to while studying for my finals during the past two weeks :) 
The Host, by Antonio Pinto-7/10
 Did it fit the movie? Yes, very well. It captured that sense of wonder accompanied with confusion, sadness, and fear, all important elements of the plot of the movie (and of the book, which I have read multiple times. Although Stephanie Meyer is better known for Twilight, I personally like The Host more! It's a better story.)  Pinto uses electronic sounds and strings mostly, with a tiny bit of guitar.
Did it make me feel something? Yes: depressed, content, amazed, happy, peaceful, worried, confused. This score is very easy to listen to and very emotive-it plays well in the background but still had the ability to draw me out of my work to re-listen to moments that captured my attention.

 Was it original? Hm, maybe? It did remind me of a Carter Burwell oscore r Thomas Newman score as far as instrumentation goes, but some things were definitely original. For example, there's this sound that Pinto uses (hear it on I'm Alive) that is really intriguing and new. It sounds like a drop of water might sound if it made a musical note.
Did I like it? Yes, I did, a little. I liked how it was easy to listen to yet still captivating. My one gripe, as usual, is that there weren't strong melodies throughout. There were some, but they were very understated and not well developed. I think Pinto is new to the Hollywood scoring world,  so I'm interested to see where his career goes from here. Purchasing suggestion? Spotify! Or buy the tracks you like. My favorites were: One Strange World, Soul Inside, and Goodbye Wanderer.  

The Place Beyond the Pines by Mike Patton-7.5/10
 Did it fit the movie? Yes, I think so, but in a really surprising and unexpected way. It was very gritty music, appropriate for a crime drama, but at the same time ethereal, due to Patton's use of a choir effect accompanied by synthesizer and electric guitar! So weird.
Did it make me feel something? Yes, it made me feel uncomfortable! The clash of the choir and guitar, in addition to the dissonant chords Patton implemented made for a somewhat unsettling experience. I felt tense much of the time while listening to the score, which was probably Patton's intent. 

 Was it original? Yes, it was original! The use of the choral voices made it very atypical, as well as the other sounds and instruments he used. I heard harp in there, as well as cricket-ish noises on one of the tracks. It was pretty cool.
 Did I like it? Yes, in terms of artistry. I liked the electric guitar and choir thing a lot because that was new and exciting. No, in terms of listening. It was too  hard to listen to by itself. Again, one of the times where context is very important. I did like some tracks though-Bromance, Evergreen, and Forest of Conscience were all really cool. Final verdict: The score is definitely worth a listen on Spotify to appreciate the artsy-ness of it :) 

The Company You Keep-Cliff Martinez-5/10
Did it fit the movie? Yes, I think it did. The movie is a political thriller, dealing with ethical issues and trying to right injustices. The music suits that-It's contemplative, the sounds of someone's mind turning and thinking-guitar, electronic sounds, some strings/orchestral interludes.
Did it make me feel something? I can't really tell. The first time I listened to the score, I started the music , began studying for my Microbiology Exam and then suddenly the score was over. It put me in this "zen-like" mood. The music went along with my thoughts and didn't really intrude on them. That's why I describe it as contemplative music.
Was it original? Again, I'm not sure. I don't think so. There weren't any strong melodies or weird instruments or anything to make it stand out. That's why I think I listened to it straight through without consciously realizing it was playing. None of the tracks really stood out to me.
Did I like it? Yes, for studying purposes and getting in work mode. No for buying tracks. In context, I think it suits the movie very well and works well accompanying the scenes onscreen, but it's just background music otherwise. Nothing stands out. Listen on Spotify!
42 by Mark Isham-8.5/10

Did it fit the movie? Yes indeed. It's music meant to inspire, a full orchestra with the horn sections often carrying the melody and the strings accompanying on most tracks. 
Did it make me feel something? Yeah :) It's very emotion-filled music. It makes me feel a sense of victorious overcoming, rising above, defeating adversity. (Definitely helpful for studying for finals!)  Normally, strings and piano pull at my heart more than anything else, and Isham does use those instruments on a few tracks but he uses primarily horns for his heart tugging melodies. I enjoyed that. 
Was it original? Hm, not as much. It does sound like a score for a sports movie, and although I mean that in the best possible way, it diminishes the originality of it a little. Isham's melodies are definitely original, but the style isn't.
Did I like it? I most certainly did! It's a feel good score, made for a feel good movie. It's very relaxing to listen to and leaves you content and inspires when it's over. Purchasing suggestion? Listen on Spotify unless you fall in love with the music and want it forever :) My favorite tracks are Jackie Robinson, Jackie is Brought Up, and You Are A Hero. 

Oblivion by M83, Anthony Gonzalez, and Joseph Trapanese-5/10
Did it fit the movie? Yep: definitely has the post-apocalyptic feel to it. Lots of electronic sounds, hard gritty tones, ethereal strings, guitar, and strong, rhythmic percussion. 
Did it make me feel something? No, not really. Earth 2077 captured my imagination-it made me want to see what Earth in 2077 looks like. But for the most part, I didn't really feel much. This score is for an action movie, designed to produce lots of tension, uncertainty, and suspense. It's really hard to "feel" that outside of watching the movie if the score isn't really anything original or surprising which leads me to my next point...
Was it original? No. It reminded me A LOT of Hans Zimmer's scores for the Batman movies or Inception, just not as good. It lacked strong melodies and original sounds. 
Did I like it? No. I hoped that I would because I thought it was cool that M83 was scoring a movie! But alas, I didn't like it. Purchasing suggestion? Listen on YouTube or Spotify. It's not a hard score to listen to, and it plays very nicely in the background. It just didn't seem original or particularly striking to me. 

The Bible, by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe-9/10
Did it fit the miniseries? Heck yes. I've been reading the Bible all my life, and the music here is exactly the kind of music that I would write if I were scoring the stories in the Bible. Full orchestra, lots of Middle Eastern instruments, beautiful vocal work by Lisa Gerrard-perfection.
Did it make me feel something? Yes-peaceful, content, hopeful, happy, excited, inspired, adventurous. There were so many moments in this score that stopped me from studying altogether. I sat back, closed my eyes, and let the music wash over me. It brought tears to my eyes. A major part of thiis intense emotional experience is definitely Lisa Gerrard's voice. Her voice singing at the end of Gladiator makes me cry every time and hearing her sing here has the same effect on me.
Was it original? Yes. Although it sounds similar to Gladiator in some parts, there is an overpowering use of strings and choir here that differentiates it from Zimmer's other works. There's really no one else that I can compare Zimmer to, though. His work is always entirely his own and his style is evident in everything he writes. 
Did I like it? Do I even need to answer this one? Yes, I liked it!  In fact, I loved it and bought it as soon as I was done listening to it. The only reason that it didn't get a 10/10 is because some of the tracks are repetitive and sound similar. I wonder if that has something to do with the convention of scoring a miniseries. Since the episodes are spaced apart, it might be helpful to play the same melodies over again to draw the series together as a cohesive whole. I don't know. In any case, I loved it. I don't have a favorite track-they're all my favorite. Here's the first track to get you started! 
 Wow! That was a lot of score reviews! Let me know your thoughts on all these scores in the comments section and on Sunday, check back here for your composer of the month! :)


Sunday, April 21, 2013

April Composer of the Month is...

Mark Isham! I wanted to give him a little love today because he released a new score this month and because his score for October Sky was one of my favorites before I even knew what a score was! I watched that movie when I was pretty young, about 6 or 7, and this violin is the sound that inspired me to learn to play violin. Also, how can you not have tears in your eyes while listening to this theme? If you don't at least feel the possibility of tears coming to your eyes, you might not be human.

 Anyway, Mark Isham! He was born on September 7, 1951 in New York City. His parents were both musicians and exposed him to all kinds of music at an early age. As a child, he studied piano and violin, but his "soul" instrument, his ultimate favorite, was the trumpet. His family moved to San Francisco, where at age 15, Isham was playing his trumpet in jazz clubs AND in The Oakland and San Francisco Symphonies. Thinking about my own accomplishment at age 15 makes me feel inferior haha :)

In the late '70s/early '80s, Isham had his own band, Group 87, playing progressive rock music. Around this time, he was also releasing solo albums of his own. His music from this time reminds me of the music from nature films/old educational films/video games-it has sorta of a new age/electronic/smooth jazz feel to it, very different from his work on films. 

Speaking of his work on films, he got into the movie scoring business when film director Carroll Ballard came across his music and liked it so much that he hired him in 1983 to score a little film called Never Cry Wolf, a movie that became a HUGE success and launched Isham into Hollywood film scoring. Since then, Isham has scored over 70 films, including  Eight Below (This score makes me smile), The Cooler, A River Runs Through It (So beautiful), Blade, Nell, Miracle and The Secret Life of Bees. In his later work, he has a style that I really, really like, using strings and solo instruments a lot. His most recent scores include Warrior, Dolphin Tale, and 42 (look for a review of this one next week!) along with the ABC hit Once Upon A Time

(Side note: I tend to like TV shows more when there's a good score behind them. If only all U.S. TV shows had the kind of budget where they could hire composers and full orchestras! The Brits tend to budget for good scores, which makes me wonder if that's the reason why I like British TV so much. Of course, the content and script writing is often superior too...but that's another story!) 
In conclusion, Isham is a wonderful artist. October Sky makes me cry every time because of his music, and he's an excellent trumpeter as well as a composer. I love this quote from him on the art of film composing:  “I create emotion through music. Whether it’s high or low, anger or passion, exhilaration or death, denial or lust, motion or solitude. And when I can take a person on this journey through film or recordings, there’s nothing more satisfying.”

Isham has won Grammys for his early solo works, but Hollywood doesn't give him very much love for his scoring work, so let's all appreciate him this week and listen to his music. A lot of it is on Spotify, and I highly recommend giving him a listen at some point in your week :)  That's all I have for you today. Check back next week for a TON of score reviews and have a wonderful Sunday!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

April Scores

Hi everybody! Quick hit post today-school is slowly, ever so slowly coming to an end and so naturally, the work load is increasing and my life is getting crazier! So crazy that I haven't played the piano in more than a week :( The first thing I'm doing when I get home for the summer is taking a day to do nothing but play piano! Anyway, today I have a list of scores I will be reviewing in April-some are already out now, so if you want to check them out before I review them-please do! 
Mmm, Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper <3

The Host, by Antonio Pinto
(yes, I know I said I would review it last month, but it wasn't out yet!!)

The Place Beyond the Pines by Mike Patton (Another new guy)

The Company You Keep, by Cliff Martinez (New guy)

42 by Mark Isham (I LOVE Mark Isham)

Oblivion by M83, Anthony Gonzalez, and Joseph Trapanese (This one intrigues me)
I'm not the biggest fan of Tom Cruise

The Bible, by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe (Not a movie, but a TV show score!)

Most of these are already out, so have a listen and I'll review them on the blog in the coming weeks, and I'll also highlight a yet-to-be-determined composer of the month! Hope you all have a wonderful Sunday :)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter! Here's some score reviews :)

Hey everyone! Happy Easter! I hope you're all having a wonderful day filled with family fun and candy and love and praising Jesus :) I have a couple score reviews for you today so let's get going!

Olympus Has Fallen, by Trevor Morris-4/10
Did it fit the movie? Yep-action movie, driving beats, lots of percussion, horns, electronic sounds, etc. The main titles/theme of the movie also sounded very "presidential," something I'd expect from a movie about Washington D.C.
Did it make me feel something? Not really. Two tracks did, and those two are the only two songs I kinda liked on the entire soundtrack. Land of the Free gave me that feeling of awe and respect-how I imagine it feels to be there when the president walks in and Hail to the Chief plays. Rocky Road Ice Cream was very slow and heartfelt-I wish there had been more tracks like that!
Was it original? Um, no, and here's my number one reason why: Listen to the opening phrase of this song and then the opening lines of this song. Same melody, different key.
Did I like it? No, not at all. To be honest, most of it just wasn't my style, and I didn't really find it to be original at all.

Stoker, by Clint Mansell-8.75/10
Did it fit the movie? Yes, I believe so. Mansell uses his typical style of piano accompanied by orchestra and synth to create an ethereal, other worldly, creepy mood that completely fits the psychological thriller/horror movie that Stoker is.
Did it make me feel something? Yes, definitely. Since some tracks were very long, I felt a broad range of emotions over the entire track, which I love! For example, I give you a play by play of my reactions to one track-Becoming: It begins fast paced-I feel rushed, out of breath. It makes me think of someone running away. Then, the melody twists and becomes dissonant-I feel scared, caught. That running person is now caught and trapped in a corner. The music fades and then swells briefly, then disappears and changes completely. A solo piano begins playing a very slow, beautiful melody, strings play lightly in the background. This brings me down, I feel sad. Then the strings get louder and an orchestra begins playing. I feel overcome with emotion. The orchestra disappears, then reappears, this time with a chorus. The emotion is hard to define here. I think it's sadness and anguish, while at the same time, exultation. It feels sad yet triumphant. Such a strange track. I think I would have to see the scene it accompanies in the movie to make sense of it all!
Was it original? Yes, it was. I haven't heard a score quite like this one in a while. It felt like a blend of Dario Marianelli's score for Atonement and Thomas Newman's score for American Beauty or Side Effects. 
Did I like it? Yes, it just worked for me! I loved what Mansell did with piano here. He showcased it, and brought in other instruments/electronic sounds to enhance the feeling. He aso took advantage of the dissonance that can be achieved on the piano-I heard lots of intriguing chords that I really liked a lot :) Purchasing suggestion? I would go ahead and buy the whole thing/listen to it on Spotify over and over again!  It flows really well together as a score. My favorite tracks are The Hunter and the Game, Becoming (see above), and Happy Birthday. There are some tracks that aren't part of the score that are awesome, like Becomes the Color and Summer Wine.

That's all for today! Check back next week for some more reviews and a preview of April scores :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Family Friendly Score Reviews for March!

Hi everyone! Due to the high volume of scores released this month, I"m going to release my March reviews in two parts. Today, I'm reviewing the scores from this month's family movies. Let's go! 

Oz the Great and Powerful, by Danny Elfman-7/10
Did it fit the movie? Yes, definitely. It had that fantastical quality that Elfman lends wonderfully to all his scores. I hear that specifically in his use of choral voices, harp, and xylophone.
Did it make me feel something? Yes, at parts. I really liked the tracks with a lilting waltz/dance feel to them-A Serious Talk, Where Am I/Schmooze-a-Witch, and Fireside Dance were all tracks tha made me feel happy :) Glinda Revealed was lovely as well, evoking feelings of safety and peace. Some tracks were loud and a little bit frightening, such as Destruction and Oz Revealed, but none of them really "scared" me. I find this strange, because usually Elfman's scores have at least one track that terrifies me.
Was it original? Interestingly, I didn't think that this score was very original. Every time I hear an Elfman score, it seems as if he borrows from himself. I heard things in this score that reminded me of Nightmare Before Christmas, Spiderman,  and especially Alice in Wonderland. The one thing about this score that did make it different is that it felt less...creepy...than Elfman's other work. It was more gentle and sweet than scary. I kinda liked that. Also, I heard the opening lines to the Canadian national anthem in the main theme. Listen to Main Titles and you'll see what I mean.
Did I like it?  The more I listened to it, the more I liked it! It grew on me. Purchasing suggestion? Buy the tracks you like! (From what I've heard, I think the score is probably better than the movie, so give Elfman some love for his work). 

The Croods, by Alan Silvestri-8.5/10
Did it fit the movie? Completely. It made me think of family and fun and adventure and discovery. Silvestri used a mix of full orchestra and solo guitar for this score, along with several unique instruments that were reminiscent of tribal music. 
Did it make me feel something? Yes! Happiness! Many of the tracks were light and fluffy and just made me smile. I could totally see the Crood family discovering a new world accompanied by this music.
Was it original? Yes, I think it was! Silvestri used bongo drums and marimbas that I haven't heard in awhile, and he blended those tribal sounded with a full orchestra very well. He implemented other styles as well! There were also a couple of tracks that sounded randomly jazzy and those were really fun. On one track, Smash and Grab, he used the USC marching band to blare out a march! 
 Did I like it? I really liked it, because I thought it was adorable :) All the music just made me feel so good about life. Even the tracks that were probably supposed evoke "danger" ended up sounding happy in the end, just as they should in a family movie. I think Silvestri  was very aware of the younger audience that this movie targeted and therefore composed his music to entrance that audience. Purchasing suggestion? Buy the tracks you like, and if you're feeling particularly in the mood for light, happy music, buy the whole thing! My favorite tracks are The Croods Family Theme, Prologue, and Going Guy's Way.

Jack the Giant Slayer, by John Ottman-6/10
Did it fit the movie? Yes, it did. It had the feel of an epic adventure movie-full orchestra used pretty much the whole time with heavy emphasis on strings. I hadn't heard of Mr. Ottman before, so it was nice to hear from a new composer! He definitely got the genre right in terms of the sound of his score. His style on this film sounds very much like Harry Gregson-Williams work on the Chronicles of Narnia.
Did it make me feel something? Yes, it did. I  liked the Jack and Isabelle theme-it made me want to go on an adventure. Logo Mania had the same effect, with its invigorating rhythms and driving beat.  To Cloister and How Do You Do were really sweet and gentle, and First Kiss had a gorgeous, moving string section. Many of the tracks were just too loud and intrusive for me to really like them, which makes sense if you think about the movie itself. Giants are loud and intrusive :) 
Was it original? In the sense that the melodies were original, yes it was. But as far as orchestration goes, it sounded very similar to other fantasy films.
Did I like it? As a whole, no. Listening to it in context of the film might make it better, but when I simply listened to the score, it was just too loud for easy listening or as background for doing homework. However, I think that means that Ottman definitely did his job right! This movie was about slaying some giants so obviously the score couldn't be soft and gentle! Purchasing suggestion? Listen on Spotify or YouTube, and if you want, buy a couple tracks, but maybe not the whole thing.

And that's all for today, folks! Please listen to these scores and see what you think, and then come back later this week for the second batch of reviews from slightly less family friendly movies

Friday, March 8, 2013

Morricone: The March Composer of the Month

Hey everyone! Our composer of the month for March is the legend-wait for it-ary Ennio Morricone, arguably the most prolific film composer of all time! Since the beginning of his career, he's scored over 500 films! That's crazy! He's responsible for the music from timeless and iconic movies such as The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly and The Untouchables, and he's a giant in the composing world-many composers working in Hollywood today cite him as one of the people who influenced them in their own journey to work in the film industry. Let's all take a few minutes and learn about this awesome guy!

Ennio Morricone was born in Rome on November 10, 1928. His father was a trumpet player and taught him to read music and play instruments from a very young age. Morricone started writing his own music when he was only 6 years old, and when he was 9,  he entered the National Academy of Santa Cecilia to study trumpet. At the age of 12, he began to study at a music conservatory and proceeded to complete four years worth of course work in about a year. He also has degrees in both Trumpet Performance and Composition. Basically, Morricone is a musical prodigy.

By 1947, Morricone was working as composer for theatre music. In the 1950s, he began to score for radio shows and television as well, and his career as a film music composer started in 1961 with the film Il Federale directed by Luciano Salce. He rose to fame after his many collaborations with director Sergio Leone. These were good, ol' fashioned American Westerns-A Fistful Of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965), The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly (1966), Once Upon A Time In The West (1968), A Fistful Of Dynamite (1971), and My Name is Nobody (1973). Don't those just sound like cowboy movies? :) After his work with Leone made him popular, the rest, as we say, is history.

I'm pretty sure Morricone has composed for every single film genre known to man-everything from comedies (Bulworth, La Cage aux Follesto romances (Days of Heaven) to horror (The Thing) to science fiction (Mission to Mars). All in all, he's worked in Hollywood and in the European film industry for 52 years. Yep, that's right. He's 84 right now and still composing for film and television, although he hasn't worked on an American film since 2002. Morricone has won two Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes and  five BAFTAs. He has also been nominated for five Oscars, but shockingly has never actually won! Thankfully, the Academy recognized that this was an issue so they gave him the Academy Honorary Award in 2007 for his contributions to the film music world.  Personally, I think he's amazing. The sheer number of scores he's composed astounds me. My favorite Morricone work is his score for The Mission. The main theme has such a beautiful and haunting oboe melody, and I love the fact that he uses a harpsichord. Such an under used instrument these days. 

Let's all take a moment today to celebrate Mr. Morricone for his work. All of his music is on Spotify so go listen! He definitely has a distinct style-he likes to use the strings a lot, and I also notice a lot of woodwinds, timpani, snare, and xylophone. Comment below and let me know what you think of his music! I'll be back next week with the first round of reviews for March :)  Have a wonderful day!